After covering our recruiting and position group updates, we started our pre-season prediction series for the West Virginia Mountaineers’ 2020 football season by predicting our five biggest offensive surprises earlier this week. Now, we continue that series by predicting West Virginia’s five biggest defensive surprises.
West Virginia’s Five Biggest Defensive Surprises
Defensive Surprise Five – Tykee Smith
Similar to our list for the Mountaineers’ offense, we begin our list of West Virginia’s five biggest defensive surprises with a name that is not a surprise, per se. Tykee Smith played as well as any freshman safety in Morgantown at least since Karl Joseph. As a result, we realize the task we face to justify Smith as one of the defense’s biggest surprises. Just as we did with Sam James, however, we do not pick Smith because he comes out of nowhere. Instead, we pick Smith because of how underrated we still believe he is.
Indeed, we anticipate Smith will double his interception total from last season (two last year), despite a shorter season. Smith will offer a stable, menacing presence in the Mountaineers’ secondary and step up as a team leader. For those efforts, we believe Smith will make several All-Conference first teams at the end of the year. And that is why we include him as a defensive surprise.
Defensive Surprise Four – Akheem Mesidor
Akheem Mesidor played his recruitment very close to the vest last season. As a result, he was one of the latest additions to the Mountaineers’ 2019 class. But, by our account, he may end up being one of the most important. Mesidor, hailing from Canada but playing his senior season in Florida, offers the Mountaineers a talented edge rusher with serious physical gifts. The ESPN300 recruit had the rating to prove it.
Brown has offered to the media that he fully expects Mesidor to be a regular stable in the defensive line rotations, especially with Taijh Alston suffering another injury that will keep him out for the first month or two of the season. In that time, Mesidor will cement himself as an early and impactful contributor to the Mountaineers’ 2020 success.
Defensive Surprise Three – Daryl Porter, Jr.
Daryl Porter, Jr., is the second true freshman to earn a spot on our list of West Virginia’s biggest defensive surprises. We thought highly of Porter when he signed his letter of intent as part of the Mountaineers’ 2020 recruiting class. Indeed, Porter seemed to be a fairly underrated cornerback from that class. With some players, like David Vincent-Okoli earning more press, Porter certainly did not stand out as a player likely to make an immediate impact.
That said, here we are, two weeks shy of the Mountaineers’ season opener against Western Kentucky, and Head Coach Neal Brown assures the media that Porter will indeed play plenty this season. Brown says that Porter “loves to compete,” has an “extremely high football IQ,” and has “great feet” that he uses to maintain proper positioning through each play. That is certainly high praise from Brown. Whether Porter translates that potential to the field remains to be seen, but Brown will certainly give Porter every opportunity.
Defensive Surprise Two – Tony Fields II
Tony Fields II is the most recent addition to the Mountaineers’ defense, arriving just a few weeks ago after announcing his intention to transfer to Morgantown from Arizona. Fields played three seasons at Arizona, and he made the most of those seasons. Linebacker was perhaps the biggest position of need for the Mountaineers going into this season. As a result, the addition of Fields itself offered the Mountaineers a welcome surprise. What we could do with that time is perhaps even bigger.
In his three seasons at Arizona, Fields accumulated 287 tackles, seventeen for loss, eight-and-a-half sacks, and two interceptions. According to Coach Brown, Fields has great energy and remains physical at the point of contact. And, most importantly, he loves to play the game. While Fields will require some time to adjust, he is certainly familiar with the style of defense the Mountaineers play. He is also familiar with West Virginia’s staff, having been recruited to Arizona by Defensive Secondary Coach Jahmile Addae. Fields’ motor should produce solid numbers reminiscent to some degree of former Mountaineer great David Long.
Defensive Surprise One – Dreshun Miller
For the biggest defensive surprise for West Virginia in 2020, we had no choice here. Since he signed his letter of intent, we believe Dreshun Miller would make a huge impact to the Mountaineers’ secondary. His arrival to the field was delayed by an injury that hampered his 2019 season. In some ways, however, this may have been for the best. Another year of development and familiarity with the defense certainly could not hurt. Miller’s tape reminds us of former Mountaineer Rasul Douglas in many ways. Miller is not afraid to lay a punishing hit on opposing skill players. And Miller looks like every bit the ball hawk that Douglas was.
Yet, in some ways, Miller has the potential to be better. He appears to offer a bit more polish and poise in coverage than Douglas. More, Douglas entered the Mountaineers’ rotation immediately after transferring from Junior College, and he simply did not look as game-ready in his first season as he did in his second. Like Douglas, Miller came in with three years to play two. Due to the injury, Douglas still has two years of eligibility without the “growing pain” year Douglas surrendered. As a result, we expect to see Miller perform more like second-year Douglas than first. If that proves true, Miller will not just be the Mountaineers’ biggest surprise, but he might be West Virginia’s best defensive player outside of Darius Stills.